Category: Racism

Rachel Dolezal’s Appropriation of Adoption Language

Rachel Dolezal’s Appropriation of Adoption Language

Rachel Dolezal today (left) and Dolezal as a teenager (right).
Rachel Dolezal today (left) and Dolezal as a teenager (right).

If you haven’t heard of Rachel Dolezal, then you are one lucky duck. Dolezal made international headlines last week when it was revealed that she, a White woman, had spent the better part of a decade masquerading as a Black person and was even the chapter president of the Spokane, Washington branch of the NAACP. What really captured people’s attention, though, was her rationalization of why she did what she did and the fact that she claimed to “identify as Black.” Since Dolezal’s story came out soon soon after Caitlyn Jenner revealed her true self on the cover of Vanity Fair, many people were quick to conflate the two topics – if people can be born male but identify as female, why can’t people born White identify as Black? I’m not Black and I’m not trans, so I don’t think I am the best person to explain the differences between transgendered people and what Dolezal was claiming to do, but there are many wonderful articles out there written by Black women, transgendered women, and Black transgendered women who have done an excellent job explaining this issue.

Dolezal with her adopted black son (left) and her biological mixed-race son (right).
Dolezal with her adopted Black son (left) and her biological biracial son (right).

However, there is one aspect of the Dolezal controversy that I can talk about – the question of whether White people can raise children of color.

In her interview with Matt Lauer, Dolezal said that after she adopted her son (who was previously her adopted brother) who is Black,

He [her adopted Black son Izaiah] said, ‘You’re my real mom.’ And he’s in high school, and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom.

The idea that she couldn’t be her son’s “real mom” and be of a different race is an appalling stance to take since she is basically saying that every White parent who has adopted a child of another race is not a “real parent.” This hurts me deeply since, as anyone who has read this blog knows, adopting a child here in China has been my goal in life for as long as I can remember. I also have a god-daughter whom I love very much who calls me “Mom” and my husband “Dad.” I have always believed that family is not based on blood but on love. I know I will love my children just as much as if they had come from my own body and no one will ever love them more. Of course, they will also have a birth mother and birth father out there somewhere who will never forget them, but I will be my children’s mother, their real mother.

A multi-ethnic family built through adoption.
Raising children of another race is a challenge. 

However, I don’t deny that raising children of a different race is a challenge, for both the parents and the children. The issue of balancing race and culture in a multi-ethnic household is one that is constantly under discussion in adoption communities. I think Adoptive Families magazine (an excellent resource for adoptive families) has multiple articles in each issue about parenting children of another race and their website has hundreds of articles about it.

What is also disturbing, though, about Dolezal’s claims to Blackness is not only how she has appropriated Black culture to be something she isn’t but adoption culture as well. She claims that she once identified as “transracial.” Transracial is already a known term, but it in no way applies to what Dolezal has done. Transracial is an adoption term that refers to adoptees of one race who are adopted and raised by a parent (or parents) of another race and the spectrum of the relationship they have with both races. Not all adoptees consider themselves transracial, and the amount of difficulty or ease the adoptees and their families experience while navigating both cultures varies greatly. Dolezal’s claim of being transracial is extremely harmful to those who are actually transracial. As someone with wide media attention and a shocking story, Dolezal’s use of transracial is the first time many people have heard the term and are, thus, learning about it incorrectly, which could cause problems for transracial adoptees in the future.

Dolezal’s belief that she can’t be a Black ally while White or a mother to a Black son while White shows a pathological need to be something she isn’t that is harmful to everyone.

What do you think about this topic? Do you consider yourself transracial or are you part of a multi-ethnic family by adoption or by birth? Share your experiences or thoughts in the comments!

Will Disney Whitewash Mulan?

Will Disney Whitewash Mulan?

The Internet erupted in cheers after the announcement that Disney is going to start production on a live-action version of Mulan. After the roaring success of Cinderella, Disney has a whole slate of films planned that will turn their beloved children’s cartoons into live-action versions, including Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, and The Jungle Book.

673d4450d3fa0c1f7128b038a6412a42Mulan is Awesome

Mulan is one of my favorite Disney films. Of course, that is largely because the film is set in China, but also because Mulan is one of the Disney heroines that kicks lots of ass in more ways than one. While the film does open on her visiting a matchmaker and there is a love sub-plot, love and marriage are minor aspects to the story. Its one of the few Disney cartoons that focuses on a female character with a completely different driving force. Frozen received far more acclaim for being “feminist” than it was or deserved while Mulan is routinely left out of arguments about whether Disney women are good role models for young women.

A pattern of whitewashing

d7ea40cb08d3ba2d09dfed95439503bbAs one of the few Disney women of color, there is already a lot of pressure on Disney to get the casting right. A petition is already circulating demanding that Disney not cast a white actress as Mulan. It might seem obvious that Disney would cast a Chinese woman to play Mulan, but Hollywood has a poor reputation when it comes to representing people of color in film. Aside from the huge lack of people of color in film (only 4% of female characters in American films last year were Asian or Latina), characters that should be people of color often are not. One of the biggest miscasts of the year was Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in the new Peter Pan remake (which looks like a rather crappy movie overall). There was also the hugely disappointing casting of Matt Nable as Ra’s al Ghul on the CW’s Arrow. Unfortunately, Ra’s al Ghul and The Mandarin (both notable comic book villains of color) have never been played by man of color on TV or in film.  Perhaps the most egregious recent case of whitewashing in Hollywood would have to be Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. This image pretty much sums that catastrophe up.

moses

 

Same Difference

0bbff246f11dc350e5c317147b095f80So there is good reason for people to be concerned about Mulan’s casting. In fact, Mulan already has a live-action counterpart on television, on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. However, she isn’t played by a Chinese actress, but a Korean one, Jamie Chung. My problem with this casting is that is perpetuates the belief that all Asians are the same, as if they are interchangeable.

I remember when Memoirs of a Geisha came out several years ago and there were many complaints from the Japanese and Chinese communities that the three main roles in the film went to Chinese actresses. I didn’t really understand the outrage at the time, but after living in China for so long, I certainly now see the casting was inappropriate.  Casting a few minor characters as Chinese would have been alright, sort of how George Takei did a voice of a Chinese ancestor in the cartoon version of Mulan, but for the face of Memoirs of a Geisha to be Chinese was offensive.

Dolla-dolla-bills

5d43538bf685847c62e54f42d4f841a0So will Disney whitewash Mulan? I don’t think so. Disney is first and foremost and always a business. Their bottom line is always going to guide their decisions. While most of Disney’s films are marketed in America and geared for the American market, Mulan is an exception because it can (and will) be marketed heavily to the Chinese market, and that is a market that matters.

Last year, the movie that made the most money in the world was one of the worst movies of the year (and probably all time), Transformers 4. The reason for that is because it made over US$300 million in China alone, the largest-grossing film in China of all time. The movie was heavily marketed here, filmed here, and gave minor roles to several notable Chinese actors. Two other big recent movies were Iron Man III and X-Men: Days of Future Past – both of which included token parts for China’s biggest actress, Fan Bingbing. Hollywood is slowly but deliberately pivoting decisions about their filmmaking with the China market in mind.

China is the second-largest film market in the world, just trailing the U.S. Disney might not cast a Chinese woman as Mulan because that is how it should be, but they will because they know it will catch them millions of those sweet, sweet RMBs.

So what do you think? Am I wrong? Will Disney cast a white Mulan? Let me know what you think in the comments. 

Book Discussion – Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men

Book Discussion – Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men

unnaturalMara Hvistendhal’s book Unnatural Selection – Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men was quite eye opening for me. Several months ago, American-based websites and blogs that write about feminist and AAPI issues were livid over lawmakers trying to pass legislation against sex-selective abortions in America. Most decried the laws as racist, claiming there was no evidence that Asian-Americans participate in sex-selective abortions.

However, that is untrue. According to the 2000 United States census, Asian-American female birthrates in the United States for second children are the exact same as in China, 117 boys for every 100 girls (and if an Asian-American family has two girls, the sex ratio of boys over girls for third children is a staggering 151). The only explanation is sex-selective abortions. The legislation certain organizations in the US are trying to pass are racist in that they think Asian-Americans would be too stupid to lie about why they are seeking an abortion, but they are not racist for bringing to light a very serious issue. Female sex-selective abortion (what some call female fanticide or feticide) is having devastating consequences throughout Asia, not just in China and India, and the cultural idea that females are expendable did not die when Asians immigrated to the US. In fact, among Asian-American women born in the US, the rates of sex-selective abortions are slightly higher than immigrant women.

I believe that Hvistendhal attempts to bring balance to the conversation about female fanticide by being intentionally unbalanced. For decades, indeed for centuries, Western visitors to China and India have written about female infanticide. It has continually been one of the things that mark the East as barbaric and the West as civilized. But very little, if anything, has been said about the role Western powers played in the explosion of female fanticide rates in the 20th century.

Hvistendhal acknowledges that female infanticide has always happened in Asia. Even today, if you live in China or India and talk to locals about the gender imbalance problem, the answer is always boiled down to “Asian cultures prefer boys.” In all my years in China, I have never heard anyone lay an ounce of blame on Western interference. But even though Asian families have always preferred boys and female infanticide existed, it wasn’t until the 1960s that female fanticide became so widespread that the birthrates developed skewed gender numbers.

When Western powers were worried about the growth of communism and the population explosion in Asia, did they educate women, a proven way to curb population growth? No, they took the fastest, most barbaric, inhumane way possible – the murder of the next generation of mothers. Western politicians, doctors, and even UN council members saw that Asians were having multiple daughters in an attempt to get a boy. Simple birth control wouldn’t work because it wasn’t that families wanted to stop having children, they only wanted to stop after they had their boy. Instead of elevating the value of women, teaching that boys and girls have equal worth, they devised ways to help families get that boy on the first try…the first complete try, anyway. They worked to convince people that female fanticide wasn’t really murder, at least not as bad as killing a baby after it had been born naturally.

By importing ultrasound machines and other techniques that could determine the sex of the fetus, the gender rates swiftly became imbalanced. Even though in the 70s and 80s these techniques could only be used effectively in the third trimester, these dangerous late-term abortions became standard practice in many Indian and Chinese hospitals, or simply out of the back of a truck.

The role Western powers played in this human rights travesty should be brought to light.

They should be held culpable for their actions and work to right the wrongs done. However, the West has had access to ultrasound machines and better quality, safer tests for determining gender in the womb, but Western countries don’t suffer from a gender imbalance. To say China and India’s gender imbalance is solely because of access to Western medical devices is ridiculous. The West would not have been able to encourage sex selection if the cultures didn’t have a predisposition for doing it on their own already. But this I think is Hvistendhal’s point. In a world where culture has taken all the blame, it is time for Western powers to be taken to task. Both are equally responsible for the massive gender disparity Asia is suffering today. By not rehashing the issue of culture and focusing on the West, Hvistendhal is attempting to bring balance to the conversation as a whole.

Hvistendhal does an excellent job asking the tough questions many people, especially feminists, have been afraid to ask. I think everyone would agree that sex selective abortions are wrong.

Even if you are pro-choice, the practice of killing a baby because it is a girl is something everyone, especially feminists, should be fighting to end.

But when abortion is legal, as feminists believe it should be, what do you do when women abuse that right to eliminate women from the planet? Many women are rightfully concerned that any limits on abortion could lead to more and more limits on abortions. In fact, don’t think for one second that the lawmakers and organizations working to end sex selective abortions are doing so for the good of women. They have explicitly stated that by banning sex-selective abortions, they would have a foothold in getting all abortions eventually banned.

Once again, special interest groups are using culture and women’s choices as a weapon. In the 1960s, Western powers exploited female infanticide to encourage gender-selective abortions. Now, pro-lifers are using gender-selective abortions to assign fetuses personhood to stop abortions altogether.

But pro-lifers are not the ones assigning personhood to fetuses that are aborted because of their sex – abortive parents are.

These parents are not saying “this fetus is not a person and doesn’t deserve to live,” they are saying “if this fetus is a boy, it has value, and I will let it live.” Whether or not women are people is being decided by parents who are practicing gender-selective abortion and is being exploited by pro-life groups.

In a world where a woman’s personhood is being decided in the womb, how can she ever hope to achieve equality and respect in her life?

The key here is education. Ignoring the fact that Asian-Americans have sex-selective abortions will not make them go away. These families have Western educations and Western opportunities, yet they still choose boys over girls. The Asian-American communities need to be specifically targeted for education and outreach programs for women and girls.

How many children a family has is a personal issue, but once you decide to become a parent, you don’t get to decide who that little person will be. You don’t get to decide what job they will have, what their hobbies will be, or what their gender is. Even if parents sex-select for a boy, there is no guarantee that he will identify as a male when he grows up. There is no guarantee that he will marry or take care of his parents in their old age. Gender selection, for boys or girls, forces patriarchal societal norms on all children before they are even born and needs to stop.

Penny Dreadful is Pretty Dreadful – Part 2

Penny Dreadful is Pretty Dreadful – Part 2

(It was after I started writing this that I realised just how long this post was, so I decided to break it up into two parts. Yesterday’s post focused on women in the show Penny Dreadful;  today’s post focuses on people of color, specifically Chinese characters, in the show.)

People of Color

To begin with, let’s watch the clip of the Chinese people in episode 1.

That is it. They don’t get a line, they don’t utter a sound. Ives doesn’t even utter a freaking word in Chinese as a password to get in the door. The fact that the scene was set in a Chinese opium den has zero effect on the plot. There is no reason they are there except to pass through. It’s like the creators said “how can we make Victorian London as gritty and exotic as possible? Oh! Let’s throw some Chinese people in there.” They are props. They are nothing more than a background setting. They are completely objectified. It’s really infuriating. This kind of Orientalism was par for the course in actual Victorian London, but to see it today on television is simple racism and is totally unacceptable.

Sjhhanfu2
Sai Jinhua – aka Prettier than Golden Flower

People (especially TV and film writers) also seem to forget that people of color existed in nearly every strata of Victorian society. There is a beautiful tumblr that features pictures of black people living in Victorian London. There were also Asians, including many Chinese, who lived, went to school, and worked in Victorian London. I have been scrounging the internet for pictures, but, alas, they are far less documented than blacks are. But I do know they existed. Prettier than Golden Flower was probably the most famous Chinese woman in Victorian London. She would attend parties balancing on her three-inch lotus feet. You rarely see Chinese people in period dramas, except for Westerns where there are Chinese men working on the railroad. There are three exceptions, though, that pop into my head.

  • Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman

One of the best period dramas ever made, season 6 episode 16, “Life in the Balance,” featured a group of Chinese immigrants, even women with bound feet, passing through town. A young Chinese girl has some of the same aspirations as Dr. Quinn, the dream of bucking patriarchal society and being a doctor.

  • Shanghai Noon

I love this movie. Of course, people focus on Jackie Chan in this film, but Lisa Ling is often forgotten about. Her character is really brilliant. The film focuses on the indignities Chinese immigrants faced during the 1800s, and Ling’s character Pei Pei decides to stay in America as an activist to help them. In Shanghai Knights, Chan’s character states that Pei Pei isn’t in the second film because her work in San Francisco keeps her so busy. Shanghai Knights is less innovative. Chan’s sister Lin is a typical dragon lady and the two of them are the only Chinese characters in the whole film.

  • Ripper Street
Blush Pang
Blush Pang

Ripper Street ‘s season 2 premier, “Pure as the Driven Snow,” was a pleasant surprise. It features a Chinese courtesan, Blush Pang, working in London (perhaps inspired by Prettier than Golden Flower?) and involved with the Triad gang in Chinatown. Yes, London has a whole Chinatown in Ripper Street. Race isn’t just a backdrop here, but is important to the plot. Blush Pang’s subplot (she gets two plots!) is that her brother wants her to return to China. As a successful woman who escaped the subservient Chinese life destined for most women in China, Blush Pang is having none of that. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out on Netflix.

All of these examples show that once again, Pretty Dreadful does nothing for the representation of Chinese people in media. Since we have had some good examples in the past, Penny Dreadful is just a huge step back.

The Chinese are not the only people of color dismissed by Penny Dreadful. The only non-white man is Sembene, Sir Malcolm’s butler. Men of color-as-manservant is a role they have not been able to escape since Bruce Lee played Kato in the 1960s. It’s also something we see over and over again on TV today. Right now, you can see black manservants on NBC’s Dracula and The CW’s Arrow.

From left to right, David Ramsey in Arrow,  Nonso Anozie from Dracula, and Danny Sapani in Penny Dreadful
From left to right, David Ramsey in Arrow, Nonso Anozie from Dracula, and Danny Sapani in Penny Dreadful

I did notice that there was a black gentleman in the crowd of the seance party in Penny Dreadful’s episode 2, which is good. It’s nice to see middle- and upper-class black people in the Victorian age normalized, but he is only in the scene for 11 seconds while the scene lasts 12 minutes. He is also the only person of color there and you never see people of color included in any other group scenes, not even just walking down the street.

Like the representation of Chinese people, the treatment of black people in Penny Dreadful is archaic and unacceptable.

Do I like the Show?

I have said before that it is possible to enjoy a piece of media and be critical of it at the same time. Is that what I am doing here, critiquing it even though I enjoy it? I have to say that I was looking forward to the show but have been severely disappointed. The plot is slow, boring, and unoriginal. Dracula and Frankenstein together in one story? Like we haven’t seen that before. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was far more cutting edge. I’m going to keep watching it though; I would like to see if it does manage to do something interesting. And I like the actors. Timothy Dalton and Eva Green are very strong actors and Josh Hartnett has been a real surprise.

So what do you think of Penny Dreadful? Is it as bad as I say or am I too harsh?